The Eight of Swords

Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

Eight of Swords – Minor Arcana Tarot Card Meaning

Symbolism and Interpretation

Eight of Swords


A person stands on a rock in a pelting rain. The person is bound and blindfolded. Behind and to the side are eight swords, one of which is red-tinged as though with dried blood. Two ravens are nearby, one perched on a sword and one standing on the rock. A serpent winds across the front of the card. In the distance a castle tower is just barely visible.



Imposed inaction. Constraints. Feeling trapped. Self-imposed imprisonment. Paralysis. Needful inaction.


Learned helplessness. False imprisonment. Incarceration

Upright Meaning

One is trapped by constraints inherent within the system. The dream one grew up with has turned out to be propaganda. The system, with its political and societal structure is keeping one from one’s true potential.

Continued inaction will make it even more difficult to bring about change. One needs to seriously ask: will the situation improve over time, or do we stand in quicksand, unaware of our own buried feet?

Looking at this card on New Year’s Day 2023, the imagery so much evokes the Pandemic Years… being bound in one’s Nice Safe Cage, the home as both refuge but also as feeling like a prison, unable to leave or escape, yet also bound by one’s (necessary) choice to comply. A helplessness to act or to change things, even while others in the distance are still required to be present and risking their very lives in the fight to even just keep things afloat.  

The building in the distance might be a hospital, where healthcare workers from doctors to janitors had to show up and work terrifying and grueling hours every day even during the darkest weeks and months of the pandemic, or a village of retail workers and farmers ensuring that we all stayed fed and had at least basic resources to stave off disaster…

It is a card of paralysis and sometimes needful inaction.

The swords each holds a different challenge because most situations do not have a single cause or “reason”. Challenges and things holding one back from action are commonly multi-factorial. Think of it as an interplay of factors and influences, not as a single thing. Also remember that sometimes the inaction or even the cage can be A Good Thing. Sometimes the cage is a trap, keeping you inside and blocking your freedom, but sometimes it is truly there to protect you and to keep the Bad Things Out, or to in time provide safe transport or passage to a better situation (The Six of Swords). It still doesn’t make it fun.

What is keeping you from action?  Why didn’t you DO SOMETHING? These questions are often asked in an accusatory way: Why didn’t you tell someone? Why aren’t you keeping your resolutions? Why didn’t you use the time to better yourself / get in shape / launch the business / do the thing? Why are you so helpless? Did you CHOOSE to be a victim????

Again: multiple factors, and sometimes action can lead to worse outcomes. But unlike the Six of Wands, the eight of swords is not the card of rallying for action with protests and speeches or of forming a quest to go slay the dragon and rescue the village (or the princess). This is the card of compliance. This is the card of biding one’s time and lying-low, and of knowing when one is the hero and when one is the one without means for action and therefore awaiting rescue. (Which may or may not arrive in time).

One waits until the danger passes, until the Angel of Death has left the scene before emerging from behind the barricade of swords.

The eight swords are the heavenly and the earthly manifestations of the archetypes; the “out there” and the individual. And each is a barricade to action, though in different readings it might also be a sword that one can grab and wield oneself, if one has the strength, the skill, the knowledge and swordsmanship…

A sword of the past: old and even generational pain and learned responses.

A sword named illness…and this can be a chronic ailment that one suffers in silence and isolation or a pandemic ravaging the world’s population.

A sword named grief… Grief over lost opportunities.  Grief for lost loved ones.  And on a global scale, grief for all those who suffer and for the pain of the ravaged earth itself.

A sword of government actions. And like all swords, this sword also cuts both ways and may sometimes be wielded by those with good intentions and sometimes not.

A sword of guilt and recriminations.

A sword of outside danger

A sword of social upheaval

A sword of truth and of falsehood

The blindfold – one does not have all the information one needs in order to act and may not even know where to begin. Only partial information is available. Do you truly understand the situation and know what is going on? And are the sounds in the distance true warnings or do you instead listen to conspiracy theories and extremist rhetoric (and how do you tell)?

And it can be a card of frustration and deep anger that feels like it is flowing up from the earth itself: others are partying in the distance and one cannot participate or even attend because (insert very legitimate reason that the partiers brush off).

Meanwhile the revelers at the distant castle unknowingly or with great disdain deny your worth (eugenics is a thing) and celebrate a “return to life” while courting death.   

Reversed Meaning

Learned Helplessness. Toxic Positivity and Victim-Blaming. Oppression. False imprisonment. One is trapped by circumstances beyond one’s control, and all options for action lead to disaster. The voice of truth will not be heard, and any action will fail. One is blamed for things that are out of one’s control.

Creative Process

The eight of swords tarot card
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